Magical, Mystical Svalbard

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July 22nd 2019
Published: July 23rd 2019
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Ever since I’d heard of Svalbard, I’ve dreamed of going. The whole point of this cruise was to see Svalbard, with everything else being a bonus. So even after the build up, it was mind blowingly magical to see the coast from the sea. I’m fortunate to have seen some awesome places, but none have made me feel so awestruck as this. I’m not sure why - could be the knowing that so much of the land before me is untouched by humans or because it is so inaccessible. Perhaps it’s the snowy, blue beauty or the fact that as far as I know, people hadn’t roamed there until quite recently in human history. Whatever it was, despite the cold, I stood staring at the coast for a very long time.

Despite it being full on daylight all night, we slept in until around 10am. My excuse is all this fresh sea air. Or maybe I’m bone idle, I’ll take both.

We weren’t the only ones late for breakfast and when we sauntered out to deck 8 in our thermals, it turned out we’d not missed that much. However, Mo leaped through the door with news of a humpbacked sighting which we did miss.

The area to the side of deck 8 is much more civilised than the front of deck 10, being a bit sheltered with a few seats! The Orca gang were out, some of which had been there since 3.20am despite the thick fog preventing them from seeing anything. You can’t knock their dedication.

After days of highly unusual sunshine in the Arctic, the weather finally decided to get more appropriate, being around 5 degrees with a good dose of rain. We took cover in the Observatory where Mo and Andrew joined us. After much discussion about my Osmo Pocket, I was sent to do a walking timelapse and video around the ship so the others could see the result. I was gone more than long enough to hit my exercise goal. I should have shares in Osmo because it looks like a few people will be purchasing them before their next trips.

We chatted a while when a distant whale leaped out of the sea. I ran upstairs minus a coat - no time for that, Arctic or not! Andrew and Richard were hot on my heels and despite the wind and rain, it was totally worth shivering on deck 10 as we witnessed birds feeding alongside a pod of 9 or 10 humpbacked whales. It’s pretty hard to get a decent photo, but I have blurry records of it plus far better memories. Eventually the cold got the better of me and we returned to the observatory on deck 9 where Glyn, Mo and Sonja had witnessed the same in comfort and warmth.

This had got me all excited, so it was time to hang out on deck 8 with the Orca gang who had seen heaps of whales and are the reason why I know what type of whale I had seen. We had afternoon tea as I’d missed lunch again and there was much excitement in the Secret Garden as through the windows, many distant spurts were sighted, although it was far more spurts than whale, the cheeky teasers!

The thing about having a big lens on this ship (for those in the know it is a 150-500 sigma) is that others assume you know what you are doing AND knowledgeable about birds and whales. So people keep talking to me and asking if I’ve got good photos - even asking to see them on the back of my camera. It’s a lot of pressure especially as my lens although costly, is one of the cheaper ones, so the distant whales are far from sharp, but identifiable (if you know whales) and not that impressive.

A late afternoon on deck 8 rewarded us the fin whales which are really big - larger than humpbacks but smaller than blue whales. There are members of the Orca gang either side of the ship and they have walkie talkies with alarms. If you are on one side and hear the alarm, we all shoot across to the deck as it’s an alert to whales on the other side. Being surrounded by spurts, there was around 10 of us constantly running from one side to the other. There was a false alarm when Mo’s phone went off for no reason other than to wind us up.

I was staring out to sea when one of the Orca Gang, Rosie, told me she’d seen a very distant but huge spurt - a definite blue whale! So I was looking in the direction of a blue whale which is almost as good as seeing one. After a few hours in the cold, we returned to the warm observatory to write blogs and drink wine. I was out of place in my thermals amongst people in their finery for formal night. Glyn escaped by going to the buffet.

I was busy blogging and supping wine when Glyn appeared all excited, demanding I follow. Looking across the other side of the ship I could see snowy land. I was baffled as I’d asked one of the crew earlier what time we would first see Svalbard and he checked and said around 4am. So how come we were here already?

We quickly hopped down to deck 8 to discover that people had just seen a blue whale that we had missed. Andrew had a great photo, so he and I can never be friends again.

However, the lack of further blue whale action was insignificant. The Svalbard coast spread out before me under a cold blue sky and lined by a cold blue sea. Fog swirled under snow capped rock mountains, that met the sea under glaciers or sea ice. There was a mix of both which were explained to us by a marine biologist student who was also in awe.

It really is beautiful and I can’t wait to set foot there tomorrow.


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